International business leaders have urged the UK to stay in the European Union, warning of the complications that could follow a Brexit vote.
China’s richest man and the head of airline Qantas have both joined the chorus of corporate heads calling on Britons to vote to remain in the EU.
Billionaire Wang Jianlin, who owns businesses including Britain’s Sunseeker yachts and the firm behind the One Nine Elms development in Battersea, predicted that Chinese companies could move elsewhere. He told the Sunday Times(£) that Brexit “would not be a smart choice” for the UK, and separation “would create more obstacles” for investors.
His views were shared by the Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce. “I think it is in the economic interest of Britain and the EU to stay together,” Joyce, who was born in Ireland and is now based in Sydney, told the Financial Times. “What has happened in the EU in terms of free trade and the growth of economic activity has been good for the UK and the EU.”
Several airline bosses have already come out in favour of the remain campaign. Last week Ryanair’s Micheal O’Leary said that he planned to brand his planes with pro-Europe slogans in the runup to June’s vote, and easyJet’s chief executive, Carolyn McCall, has warned that Brexit could herald a return to the days when flying was “reserved for the elite”.
A survey for the fund management firm Fidelity found that two-thirds of senior executives at UK and European firms believed a leave vote would have a negative effect on their businesses, and just 2% said the effect would be positive.
The survey of chief executives and finance officers at firms that the company invests in found concerns over exports and inward investment. Half of respondents said the questioning of the UK’s membership of the EU was already affecting their business plans.
On Saturday, finance ministers from the G20 nations voiced concerns about the impact of a leave vote. In a communique at the end of their summit in China, they listed “the shock of a potential UK exit from the European Union” as one of several factors posing a threat to the global recovery.
Meanwhile, research among small business owners has found that 60% want to stay in the EU and only a fifth have decided to vote for a Brexit. A survey of 470 owner-managed firms by the accountancy firm Moore Stephens found strong support for the remain campaign, with respondents worried that an exit could hurt growth opportunities.
Mark Lamb, a partner at Moore Stephens, said: “Small businesses currently benefit from unrestricted access to the large European market and many could find increases in tariffs and potential trade restriction difficult to overcome, stifling international growth potential.”
However, some businesses said they would welcome an exit, with most citing bureaucracy associated with EU trading regulations, especially in the food industry, and the prospect of tax reductions should the UK vote to leave.
“Some argue that membership of the European Economic Area would allow companies to access the key benefits of Europe without having to deal with EU bureaucracy, similar to countries such as Iceland,” said Moore.
“However, factors such as the loss of free trade agreements with non-EU countries which would have to be renegotiated – likely on less favourable terms as a smaller individual trading partner – and the loss of EU farming subsidies would be difficult and costly for SME to absorb.”
On Monday evening a pro-Brexit group for financial services workers will be launched. The City for Britain group has the backing of the former chancellor Norman Lamont and others including Peter Cruddas, founder of trading company CMC Markets, and Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management.
Alex Deane, managing director of FTI Consulting, who is involved in the campaign in a personal capacity, said: “The assertion is made that the City is all for remain. This isn’t true. There is a large body of people who believe we’d not just survive but thrive as a global player rather than shackled to the slowest-growing economic area in the world, which sometimes legislates with rules that are effectively against the Square Mile.”
Deane said there was a groundswell of different groups emerging for Brexit. “We are just one more such affiliated group. This is the biggest fight of our political lifetimes. None of us wanted to be on the sidelines.”
This article was written by Hilary Osborne, for theguardian.com on Monday 29th February 2016 00.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010